Northumberland County has been awarded one of twenty (21) federal grants to reduce deaths, overdoses, and stigma related to opioid use. Last year, the County saw its highest overdose rates to-date, having reported that 40 people died of accidental overdose, despite broad-reaching efforts to increase education, distribute naloxone, reduce opioid prescribing and expand prescription drug take-back.
The Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic Demonstration Project is a 2-year grant, which involves a six-month planning period and 18-months of implementation. The primary focus of the grant is preventing and reducing overdose deaths associated with opioids, including illicit fentanyl, and the advancing of a shared understanding of the patterns and characteristics of problem drug use in a local community.
The project aligns with the strategic plan laid out in 2018 by the Northumberland County Opioid Coalition and is the result of a collaboration between Coalition stakeholders. The County of Northumberland is the primary recipient of the grant, with the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, Gaudenzia and Central Susquehanna Opportunities, Inc. being major partners. The cross-sector team leading this initiative includes representatives from partner agencies, law enforcement, social services, the courts, and the community-at-large.
“Northumberland County is excited about this opportunity that will enable us to put important pieces in place in addressing this critical issue in our region,” says Sam Scicchitano, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Northumberland County. “We are so proud of the partnerships that have been developed and feel confident that, as a result of this more aggressive effort, we will begin to see real progress.”
Chad Wolfe, a Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS) and member of the Northumberland County Opioid Coalition since its founding, has been hired through the grant as Project Coordinator through United Way. His role will be to oversee the implementation of each phase and keep the project on task and on target.
“We’re trying to help all people get better and live better lives, from parents and kids to anyone in the community struggling with a substance use disorder,” says Wolfe. “All of the pieces of this puzzle need to work together to address the problem and to support people with substance use disorder. We need to encourage people to get the help they need and find things that motivate them.”
Major components of the work targeted to be accomplished through the grant include the following:
· Hiring a data consultant to monitor, maintain and analyze accurate and relevant data to identify gaps in service and track the progress of the project and the problem
· Engaging a Safe Care Manager who will work with pregnant women to encourage them to seek treatment for substance use disorder
· Implementing a Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI) program, with a particular focus on the Lower Anthracite region of the county, to train law enforcement in substance use-related issues and to connect individuals with appropriate help; this is a diversion program designed to place first-time offenders into treatment instead of incarceration
· Hiring a Certified Recovery Specialist to assist police in a rapid response program aligning with the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative program
· Coordinating Strengthening Families programs throughout the county, an evidence-based prevention program targeting adolescents ages 10 to 14 and their caregivers, for youth and families in several Northumberland County school districts
Wolfe will lead the project from a place of experience. Having most recently worked as a CRS for Clean Slate Centers in Williamsport, he has worked hard in his own recovery. Through his battle with substance use disorder, he had been hospitalized five times and has now been in recovery for four years. Ultimately, he points to his faith and finding fitness and hobbies like car repair work that have helped him shift his focus and heal.
“The bottom line is it doesn’t matter how you get there, it’s just that you do get there,” Wolfe adds. “The team and I want to give people treatment options and the opportunity to find recovery.”
Until June, the Rural Reponses to the Opioid Epidemic Demonstration will be in the planning phases. During that time, the team will be meeting with stakeholders, community organizations, county officials, and key decision-makers related to substance use and recovery. In June, the implementation of the programs and initiatives will begin.
(Information from Seth Joseph / Director of Development and Marketing / Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way)